St Georges Day and Its Meaning
It certainly doesn't help that St George's Day hasn't been officially recognised as a national holiday since the British Act of Union, but this small fact on its own is a pretty telling detail, not only regarding our patron saint's day but with England's predictament in general. England has long suffered with an identity crisis, and its one that isn't getting any easier. Perhaps the reality is that English culture has been suppressed for so long that it's fallen into a state of collective amnesia.
I think its pretty obvious that in order to make the Act of Union a success, Westminster has waged a silent war since 1707 on anything specifically English, supplanting it with a faux romanticised 'British' identity in its stead. You can still see the effects of this today in the system as the Welsh, Scottish and Irish identities (and nationalist parties) are promoted and even partially funded by English tax payers, whereas those who dare call themselves English are made to feel guilty about their very existence. We see examples of this in the media condemning us for simply flying the English flag, or in politics with politicians trying their utmost to suppress an awakening of an English identity.
Today, the United Kingdom seems to be increasingly fractured, mostly due to the ridiculous Barnett formula which as Lord Barnett said himself, was never meant to be used as a long-term solution. As Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seem to move further in different directions driven by their own aspirations and needs, Englishness it seems is once again beginning to bubble up at the surface. Westminster politicians are petrified of it because of the inherent constitutional issues a self-aware England would create. For Britain to exist as an entity, there needs to be a complicit England that has no regard for itself as a nation in its own right. This is most likely why they were so eager to discuss the breaking up of England into regional assemblies when the Scottish referendum was top news. The idea of an English only Parliament was seldom mentioned.
However with all this been said, there are those who identify as English who are keen to get St George's day reinstated as a National Holiday, but personally I have some reservations.
The Real English Saint
England's original national saint was Edmund the Martyr. As King of East Anglia he fought and lost a battle against marauding Vikings where, as the legend states, he was later captured and brutally tortured. The story goes that the Northmen tried to make him to renounce his faith, and as he refused was tied to a tree and shot with multiple arrows. Eventually the Vikings got bored and decapitated him, launching his head into a forest. Whilst the initial part of this story will no doubt make Christians happy, the rest of the legend gets a little bit un-Christian.
It is said that a band of local Englishmen later found the head of King Edmund being guarded by a Wolf who was howling “here" to them. Bare in mind that this was the year 869, and although many of the Saxons in high society had officially converted to Christianity, there were many common folk who would have not have taken the Christian faith by this point, or at least not entirely. My personal opinion is that Christianity was not solely taken up until much later, and that dual-faith observance most likely existed for hundreds of years. The church to a great extent was more of a way of ensuring access to trade and curry good favour with the continent at this point. There will be some who reject this idea, who are emotionally invested in the idea of a Christian Anglo-Saxon society, but the truth is always a little more complicated. Many Saxon Kings, even as late as Alfred the Great, still traced their linage back to the God Woden, (the Anglo-Saxon name for Odin.)
Those who know their folklore will know that the Germanic people before conversion considered the Wolf a majestic animal encapsulating all that society should strive for. Courageous, brave but also loving, tribal and hierarchical. Not only that, but Woden himself was said to have had two wolf companions named Geri and Freki. In fact it is likely that this association with pagan deities helped to produce the “big bad wolf” fairy tales, with it perhaps being a hangover from Christian indoctrination.
St Edmund in any case was held in such high regard by the English public that his remains were considered to be of a cult-like importance. St Edmund's body was placed in a shrine at Bury St Edmund, and his remains received such a pilgrimage to the town over the years that it became a lucrative business for the authority figures there. For two hundred years in fact the town made so much money from pilgrims that there were multiple cases of civil unrest from locals due to the Abbey's financial power. In the end though, the saint's body was said to have been stolen and taken to France. The act of touching Edmund's bones sounds pretty grim to our modern sensibilities, but in many ways it certainly seems to hark back to far more ancient traditions than Christianity. Ironically many of these Christians visiting the bones of Edmund likely never knew they were touching the bones of a man who likely claimed linage back to a Pagan God!
Quasi-Religious Political Symbols
|Wolf and Crown statue in Bury St Edmund today.|
Following the Norman invasion in 1066 and the subsequent genocide that affected large parts of England, (other parts of the British Isles were also affected a few years down the line) the cultural make-up of England was changed over night. All the checks and balances of power in Saxon society were swept away by William the Conqueror, and a brutal feudal system was imposed on the English population. The effects of Hastings has had an echo on the rest of British society ever since. In fact, most of those at the top of their game in politics or business in Britain today can still in many cases trace their roots back to the Norman landed elite.
In any case, the story surrounding Saint George is that the returning crusaders led by an alliance of Norman and French aristocracy told fantastic tales of a mystical army coming to the crusader's aid out of thin air, apparently led by this George bloke. Obviously this account totally lacks any credible evidence, but it does make for some pretty fantastic war-time propaganda. Regardless, as a result the flag of St George was essentially imposed on us by our warmongering Norman overlords during the Crusade, but the saint himself was not appointed to us until the mid-thirteen hundreds, and it wasn't until Tudor times that he became our 'official' Saint.
So lets stop for a moment then and just consider the situation. Since 1066, England has been and still is under control by people who sought power not for the sake of the English people, but for their own colonial ambitions. The Normans were crucial in creating the Imperialistic ideology that spanned a thousand years; not because it ever benefited farm labouring peasants, but because the landed elite were greedy sociopaths. The Scots and Irish today still bring up their subjugation at the hands the English, which is true to an extent; but what many fail to realise is that the English themselves have also long been subjugated by a elitist cabal that now make up the Westminster Government. Granted the power system today may have evolved and obviously not everybody working in the city claims Norman ancestry, but the hierarchical attitudes still seem very much in place.
So what does St George represent? It seems a bit odd that Christendom, allegedly based upon the peaceful and loving teachings of Jesus, would grant sainthood to a warmongering Crusader. Thing is, whether or not he was a real Byzantine who went to war is a moot point. The character today is purely symbolic, a pseudo-mythological fable.
Many know him as the dragon slayer. I'll take for granted that people are intelligent enough to know that dragons aren't real, but alongside serpents, dragons have for a long time been associated with heathens, pagans or "satan". In a way the idea of a dragon slayer is somewhat similar to St Patrick in Ireland who removed the 'snakes' from the land. The symbology behind reptile and pagan here seems pretty much indisputable.
Then again there is also a chance that the dragon slayer in this context was a portrayal of good over evil from an older pre-Christian tradition, either way it seems unlikely that zealots from the crusades would have had qualms about vanquishing "evil heathens". Its worth noting that the dragon slayer myth was not added to the Saint George canon until the middle ages, but it is ironic that King Harold, the defeated High King of England at Hastings was King of Wessex who's flag is a Wyvern, a Saxon Dragon. Now maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I feel this is quite a large coincidence.
The Wessex "Wyvern" Dragon flag is still
the county flag to this day.
Whilst I will concede that the general consensus on St George's day's meaning has changed considerably by this point in time, I do think we would be much better off in the hands of a real English Saint rather than some Turk with a prejudice against reptiles. As a pagan myself, I'm conflicted as I both identity with Edmund being Saxon, and the heathens who allegedly murdered him for belonging to a foreign faith - but despite this, perhaps with Woden's bloodline through Edmund, it is enough to satisfy both the modern day English Heathen and Christian simultaneously.